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12.13 - December

Today's health: Women and men
Happy New Year! 3 R's to help you reach your goals

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By Arleen Fitzgerald, L.I.C.S.W.
(Click for author bios in About us)

The last seconds count down. The streamers fly. We celebrate another year — and resolve to make our next trip around the sun a little healthier.

It's a fun tradition. But, the truth is: You don't have to wait for the ball to drop before you get it rolling. Start now — or any time — to think about how you'd like to make positive changes.

Here are three easy-to-remember R's that can help you set the stage for success. And, you can use them any time you're trying to improve your health or life with better habits.

1. Reflect
Start with some careful thought. What would help you feel healthier and happier?

It probably won't take long to come up with some answers. I need to eat more fruits and veggies. I'd like more "me time" to relax and de-stress. It would be great if I fit in a couple more workouts a week.

Choose a goal — and write down all the benefits you'll get from making it a habit. Then, post the list where you'll see it every day.

2. Replace
Starting a new, better habit often means breaking free of an old routine. To make a switch a success: Be realistic and specific — and prepare for pitfalls. For example:
  • Realistic: I won't skip my on-the-job afternoon snack-fest — I'll make it healthier.
  • Specific: Starting next week, I'll pack some chopped veggies and low-fat yogurt.
  • Prepare for pitfalls: If I forget to bring a healthy snack, I'll walk to the corner store for a piece of fruit and some unsalted nuts.
3. Reward
Pleasure tells your brain a habit is worth hanging on to. So, try to make your new routine as positive and pleasant as possible. Work toward both short- and long-term rewards.

For example: I'll watch my favorite show only when I'm on the treadmill. And, when I've stuck to my workout plan for two weeks, I'll get a new CD or workout shirt.

Try to avoid incentives that could get in the way of your goal. For instance, if you're trying to lose weight, don't reward your progress with a high-calorie treat.

Instead, choose payoffs that will help you feel good about yourself — and keep your momentum going. And every time you see your reward, it can be a great reminder of your success.
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Getting past imperfection

Most resolutions don't follow a straight line to success. In fact, 60 percent of people who achieve their New Year's goals say they had one — or more — setbacks along the way.*

Consider keeping a journal to track your efforts and how you feel about each success. If you make a misstep, you can review those notes for inspiration to get back on track. Practice may not make perfect all the time — but it will get you there with time.

*Source: Mental Health America